A Night at the Disco

NEXUS Chamber Music “A Night at the Disco” Program Notes

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805):  Quintet for Guitar & String Quartet in D Major “Del Fandango“, G.448

Allegro maestoso
Grave assai 

Luigi Boccherini by Pompeo Batoni

Luigi Boccherini (1743-1805) was a cellist and composer from Lucca, Italy. He was a child prodigy whose reputation grew as he toured Italy and France, leading in 1769 to a position in Madrid at the court of the Infante Don Luis, brother of the Spanish king. The court at Madrid had an excellent string quartet in residence, to which Boccherini added himself for the first string quintets to be written with two cellos. Boccherini was prolific and successful in Madrid until the death of Don Luis in 1785. No longer employed by the Court, Boccherini became a free agent, and he struggled to make ends meet for the rest of his life. 

Boccherini’s Guitar Quintet in D Major, G.448, known as “Del Fandango,” was originally part of a string quartet with two cellos, G. 341, composed in 1788. The term “Fandango” refers to its last movement, modeled after a lively Spanish form normally danced by a man and a woman accompanied by guitar and castanets. With its nod to popular Spanish tradition, the piece seems to have been an instant popular success but didn’t result in any lasting improvement to Boccherini’s faltering financial condition. Boccherini produced an adapted version of the G.341 Quintet for guitar and string quartet around 1798 at the behest of the Marquis Benavente, an amateur guitarist. In the latter version, Boccherini recycled two movements of his String Quintet G.270 to precede the Grave and Fandango from the String Quintet G.341.

The foot-stomping rhythms of the Quintet “Del Fandango” have made it one of Boccherini’s most popular and enduring pieces.

Eleanor Alberga (b. 1949): The Wild Blue Yonder (1995)

Jamaican-born composer Eleanor Alberga has been widely admired in the UK and Europe for decades but has begun to develop a much-deserved US following only in recent years.

Eleanor Alberga
Eleanor Alberga

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1949, Alberga began her musical career with piano lessons at 5. As a preteen, she studied at the Jamaica School of Music and was a member of the famed Jamaican Folk Singers. In 1970, Alberga pursued further studies at the Royal Academy in London as a recipient of the biennial West Indian Associated Board Scholarship. After graduating, Alberga began concertizing as a pianist and pursuing a wider range of artistic endeavors. Eventually she became the musical director and pianist of the London Contemporary Dance Theatre and worked with Fonton From, an African dance company, for three years. Composition always coexisted alongside these activities. Her catalog has grown slowly but steadily, and now includes two operas and numerous chamber, symphonic, choral, and solo piano works.

With The Wild Blue Yonder (1995), Alberga imagined the consequences of arriving “in a totally alien environment.” The piece is built of musical fragments that endeavor to fuse together but ultimately fail. The Wild Blue Yonder was premiered at Wigmore Hall, London,in June of 1995by Alberga’s husband, violinist Thomas Bowes, and pianist Gordon Back.

Read Patrick Neas’ informative interview with Eleanor Alberga here.

Amy Beach (1867-1944): Piano Trio in a Minor, Op. 150 (1938)

Lento espressivo
Allegro con brio

Amy Beach

Amy Marcy Cheney was born in New Hampshire and moved to a suburb of Boston as a child.  She was initially recognized for her brilliant piano playing, achieving critical praise in performances as featured as the soloist in the final performance of the Boston Symphony’s 1884–85 season. She was largely self-taught as a composer.

In 1885, Amy Marcy Cheney married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach. As a condition of her marriage, Beach agreed to forgo teaching, minimize her public performances, and generally function as a society matron and patron of the arts according to her station. However, she continued to write, listing her name on concert programs and published compositions as “Mrs. H. H. A. Beach.” By the end of the 19th century, she had established herself as one of the most respected and acclaimed composers of her era. Her Mass in e-flat Major was chosen by the Boston-based Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra in 1892 as their first performance piece composed by a woman in their 80-year history. Beach’s “Gaelic” Symphony, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman.

Following the death of her husband in 1910, Beach moved to Europe and resumed a more active performing and composing schedule, now as “Amy Beach.” She returned to America in 1914 and continued to enjoy success as a composer and a performer until her retirement in 1940. She died in New York at age 77.

Nearly forgotten for decades, Amy Beach’s music began to reappear on programs at the end of the 20th century. She is once again finding the recognition that she deserves as a composer of importance and quality. 

Amy Beach composed her Piano Trio, Op. 150, at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, with whom she had a long association. The piece premiered at the MacDowell Club in January 1939 with Beach at the piano and was published in the same year. It was the last chamber work that Beach would compose. 

The Romantic style of the piece would have been considered “old-fashioned” by the time the trio was composed. Luckily, the post-modern era has ushered in the embrace of a range of styles like neo-romanticism, once frowned upon by the cognoscenti, allowing for a reassessment of the work of this once-forgotten master.

Aaron Jay Kernis (b. 1960): 100 Greatest Dance Hits

Introduction to the Dance Party
Salsa Pasada
MOR Easy Listening Slow Dance Ballad
Dance Party on the Disco Motorboat

Aaron Jay Kernis (R. Bowditch)
Aaron Jay Kernis (R. Bowditch)

Aaron Jay Kernis’ training with eminent composers such as John Adams, Charles Wuorinen, Morton Subotnick, Bernard Rands, and Jacob Druckman inform his consummate skill and artistic eclecticism. Kernis has written works in a range of styles, from neo-romantic to post-modern, often employing witty irony and always displaying keen intuition and knowledge of the capabilities of the instruments for which he composes.

In 100 Greatest Dance Hits, Kernis manages to innovate and captivate with a piece that pays homage to the pop music of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The title of the piece is a nod to late-night television advertisements for pop-music compilations offered by the once-ubiquitous K-Tel Record Company. 100 Greatest Dance Hits often strikes a pop music note with movement titles like “Disco Party on the Disco Motorboat,” recalling the Bee Gees, “MOR * Easy-Listening Slow Dance Ballad,” a loose reference to Muzak, and “Salsa Pasada,” which seems to riff on the glory days of Spanish pop icon Julio Iglesias. 

Campiness and cliche in 100 Greatest Dance Hits could overwhelm the senses were it not for Kernis’ skill, inventiveness, and restraint. None of the material outlasts the fun, and amid all of the obvious quotes, the composer has managed to invent unique new sounds. In the first movement, for instance, Kernis calls for unique tapping and plucking, the composite effect of which is an innovative and unprecedented sonic texture. This material reappears at the end of the work, bringing a sense of arch to the story that effectively knits the whole piece together.

As light and fun as 100 Greatest Dance Hits is, the piece presents special challenges for performers. Balancing the softer-sounding guitar to the louder bowed instruments and bringing out all of the score’s variety in tapped sounds requires skill and rehearsal to coordinate and render intelligible. The pin-drop acoustics of Guarneri Hall should make for the perfect environment to delight in all of Kernis’ nuances.

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